The Church and State are Married in a Civil Union

In last week’s TNT episode, Tripp and I spend the first half hour talking about marriage and the church.

I learned early on in ministry to ask a simple question: If I as an ordained minister perform a wedding ceremony for a couple, but they have not secured a license from the state, then when I say “Before God and all these witnesses – I pronounce that you are husband and wife. What God has joined together, let no one separate.” Are they married?

Overwhelmingly the answer is ‘no’. That they are not married until that paper is signed and it is legal.
So it is indeed that piece of paper that is marriage and not the Christian ceremony that we perform.

This actually happened to me one time. A young couple had secured the marriage license but in all the fun and frivolity of the reception and photos, they forgot to get the paper signed. They were just about to get on the Cruise ship when they realized the mistake!
No big deal, we got it taken care of. What was a big deal was the family’s reaction! What would have happened if they had consummated the union and they weren’t even married??? (legally).

If what we are doing is nothing more than a thin Christian veneer over a civil institution, then one has to wonder why we are also so concerned about who can get married – or even have civil unions – according to our biblical morality.

It seems that the Church wants it’s wedding cake and to eat it too.

But that is a second conversation. There is a different conversation that we need to have first. Like I said, I know hundreds of people who do not (because of what they claim is their christian conviction) support same-sex unions or homosexuality in general. I get that. But why does that then translate into legislating one’s religious belief into a legal morality imposed upon others?

My point is that there is a secondary mechanism involved. There is something else working behind the scenes.

We see this in legislating who can get married based on a reading of the Bible … but we also see it in the assumption of when someone is officially married: when the Christian minister declares it or when the State license is signed.

We try to have the second conversation without having the first and that is why we never get anywhere. Christians ask the question “should same sex unions be allowed” without first addressing “why are Christian ministers performing as agents of the State?

If the answer is what I suspect it is, then we may want to take the ‘separation of church & state’ verbiage down a notch and start thinking about how we are going to fund ministry if our tax-deductible status was not so convenient for people to ‘give’.

The same-sex union is a second conversation.
There is a conversation we should have first that no one seems too eager to entertain.

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16 comments
EricBergemann
EricBergemann

Very good post! I totally agree. While a large number of people from both the Left and the Right are skipping over the first conversation, the first conversation is the only thing that the Libertarians are really focusing on.http://www.libertarianism.com/content/94/IssuesI have my own beliefs on marriage, but that doesn't mean I am going to advocate government force to ensure that view is upheld.

MDK
MDK

So if we don't believe in the thin venner How does that relate to asking the 2nd question? If you want to believe in marriage as nothing more than a civil institution then of course you're not going to hold it to any standard.

CaraEdiger
CaraEdiger

Yes! It's much easier to have more superficial conversations and ignore the deeper issues than to actually confront what's cause of the issue in the first place. We are living in a world that has so much diversity that we can no longer sweep those deeper conversations under the rug if we want to survive as members to a nation and yet still be identified as a citizen to the Christian faith. I have struggled myself with what it means to be an American AND a Christian and how can they be integrated into my identity, each having their rightful place in my life and heart? Would a solution be similar to something like having separate ceremonies? One for the state and one for the faith community? or would that just mess everything up even more- those who aren't Christians can not be married by a pastor? Or in a church? Just thinking out loud here. There is a certain cultural significance to the Christian ceremony even to those who do not claim the faith as part of their identity. Is that a valid enough reason to allow civil unions as part of the Christian ceremony?

Orthodox
Orthodox

I've been ranting about this for years.  What interest should the state have in sanctioning some religious ceremony?  I don't have to go to the courthouse to confirm my baptism (... or should I?).  And why should Christian churches have any interest in endorsing modern secular marriages, which are basically exercises in serial monogamy?

 

In my opinion, this discussion is the proper end-point for the homosexual marriage debate.  Let individual churches decide and get the government out of the wedding chapel.

MDK
MDK

If all the ceremony is a thin veneer then it is pretty obvious why the divorce rate is where it is.  If you truly believe you are getting married before God and your witnesses(family and friends) then the piece of paper might have a lesser value to you. If the state banned marriage would you walk away from your husband or wife? I find it very silly that the family you mention would have been upset if the couple had sex before the paper was signed. Did they not hold any value in the ceremony itself? Maybe they didn't make God present in that ceremony. Seeing as though the state license is so easily thrown out has almost lost its value other then tax and legal status. I am not married but when I do get married the pressure of signing the paper will be far less then the pressure of standing before God and my family (and hers) and promising myself to another. 

AhmedAbututa
AhmedAbututa

I believe that the couple you mentioned would be "married"in the eyes of God just based on the life long commitment to be faithful to each other especially with the cloud of witnesses in the presence of family and friends celebrating that moment. In fact the question I've been pondering lately is what constitutes marriage in the first place? Our marital relationships have evolved and our very different from the procreative based and women-as-property "marriages" of the bible. And there doesn't seem to be much mention of a ceremony, at least that I'm aware of in the bible. there seems to be precedent of a banquet, or party with fam&friends celebrating a union that is consummated, not by a legal document or ceremony, but by sexual relations. If anyone has any insight as to my thoughts above it would be awesome!

lockledger
lockledger

If a state banned marriage, then should the church perform marriages?  The New Testament allows for polygamy.  Should a church minister of certain congregations perform polygamous marriage ceremonies regardless of the state? State prohibit marriage at different ages, but Joseph may have married Mary at around age 12.

 

I bet there's a good chance of getting deleted for what I just wrote.

LucasLand
LucasLand

Well said! Totally agree. It is very interesting how many issues have their roots in the relationship of the church to the Empire... I mean State. It is so important to realize when the issues are not really the issues, but  masking something much deeper and more sinister. However, that's also what makes the conversation about the Church and State more difficult than abortion and marriage.

AhmedAbututa
AhmedAbututa

@CaraEdiger I read this on another blog as a possible solution. All couples regardless of being opposite or same sex is considered a civil union by the government and is afforded equal protection, rights and benefits under law. Then if the couple is interested in a wedding ceremony they can have those rites performed privately according to their particular faith tradition.

AhmedAbututa
AhmedAbututa

@MDK Agreed. I think there are some couples, not "married officially" and are co-habitating, who are more married to each other in their hearts before God, themselves, fam&friends, than some Christians who simply signed a paper and maybe took an oath. I could be wrong, but just me pondering.

AhmedAbututa
AhmedAbututa

@lockledger You bring up very good questions related to "marriage" especially because committed monogamous relationships is a pretty recent concept, comparatively speaking. There's research suggesting that polygamous relationships are more natural to human beings than monogamous relationships, so maybe monogamy is part of the evolutionmofmthe human species?

MDK
MDK

 @AhmedAbututa that may be the case unfortunately. But that doesn't lessen the need to take part in the ceremony and promise if you truly believe in the purpose of it. 

lockledger
lockledger

 @AhmedAbututa  @lockledger Homo sapiens is a recent species when you bring evolution into the argument.  I guess age of consent would be really, really recent if you bring evolution into the argument.

MDK
MDK

@phule77 Malachi 2:14,15 But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 1 Corinthians 7:2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. Hebrews 13:4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Or Ephesians 5 :31-33 I'll admit I could be reading these out of context I havent throughly studied the whole passages of each. Of course the ceremony it self isn't anywhere here but the promise isn't? One flesh, marriage held in honor, by covenant. Idk the details of the ceremony itself but Jesus attended a wedding and much wine was needed, seems a little similar tour weddings in that way.

phule77
phule77

 @MDK  Neither the promise or the ceremony are actually found in the bible. Marriage as a sacrament is relatively recent to overall history. It can mean what you want it to mean to your faith community, but insisting that it has always been that way is difficult.